1. Thomas Bjørn In the end he didn’t win, but the courage he showed during four days in July will never be forgotten. It might sound a little overdramatic, but Thomas Bjørn’s press conference following a first round 65 that saw him take the lead at the British Open at Sandwich – the very same course at which the Dane had eight years earlier blown a two-shot lead with just three holes to play – was one of the most emotional of this, and any, golfing year. Choking back tears, he reflected on how his recently deceased father would have been proud of his efforts. He went on to finish fourth – the highlight of an awesome year. While Bjørn went over four years without a win up until June 2010, in 2011 he won three times, including back-to-back triumphs at the end of the summer. His ranking shot up into the top 40 (he’s currently 36), he finished ninth on the European Tour, and most importantly, he exorcised the ghosts that had threatened to define his career.
See related story: Exorcising his golfing ghosts
2. Caroline Wozniacki Denmark’s golden girl has had another unforgettable year, beginning and ending the year as world number one – an achievement that only a select number have managed. But despite winning six tournaments – including the unofficial ‘fifth major’, Indian Wells, in March – her first grand slam remains elusive. The closest she got in 2011 was the Australian Open where she reached the semis. In fact, while many praised her achievement in remaining top for 51 weeks out of 52 (a slight blip saw her slip for a week in February), there were an equal number deriding her, pointing out that she was only the second non-grand slam winner to achieve the feat, following Jelena Jankovic in 2008.
See related story: Forget consistency, Woz should go after grand slams
3. Christian Eriksen 2011 has been an awesome year for the Ajax star who is not yet 20 years of age but is already playing with a maturity and consistency that has put him top of the Christmas shopping lists of many elite European coaches, most notably in England and Spain. His performance in Denmark’s 2-1 defeat by England in February made him a household name, although by that time he had already forced himself into his Dutch club’s starting eleven. Eriksen is central to the national team’s new fluid playing style – and his participation will be crucial if they want to emerge from their group of death at Euro 2012.
See related story: Youngster steals show, despite defeat
4. Jeanette Ottesen Heading into an Olympic year, it’s encouraging to note that while Denmark hasn’t got a prayer in athletics, there are considerable talents emerging in the pool – most notably Jeanette Ottesen, a triple gold medallist at the recently concluded European Short Course Championships in Poland, which included the 50m and 100m butterfly double. She might be nearly 24 – by which time most Soviet swimmers had won a gold, mothered a child, made a comeback and retired – and Lotte Friis is still a better Olympic prospect, but there’s no denying it was a hell of an effort.
5. Anders Hansen The return to form of the elder statesmen of golf has somewhat overshadowed the amazing year Anders Hansen has enjoyed. While he didn’t win any tournaments, he finished in the top four with regularity, recording his best ever finish in a World Golf Championship event in March when he came third in the WGC-Cadillac Championship. His form led to a dramatic rise in his world ranking (he’s currently number 34) and a seventh place finish (his best ever) on the European Tour. And he saved the best for last: having been criticised for turning down the chance to play in the US Open in favour of concentrating on his bid to win the European Tour, he came in third in the final major of the year, the US PGA.
See related story: Hansen third in US PGA
And finally …
Nicklas Bendtner A good year for his country, a poor one for his club, let’s hope 2012 is a better one for Mr Bendtner. Personally, I don’t think his main problem is his form, his ability to attract trouble or ask people if they know who he is, or even his taste in footwear – it’s his honesty. While most footballers these days give the media short shrift in every interview they do with monosyllabic lies, clichés, and complete non-observations, Bendtner’s actually quite good value. And this, with his extraordinary self-belief and ambition, is a dangerous combination, because when a Danish hack says to him: “Oh, Nicklas, you’re so good, you should be playing for Barcelona,” he tends to agree with them. In 2012, he needs to stop saying he wants to play in the Champions League (against Barcelona in March, he had his chance to become an Arsenal immortal – he blew it) when he's playing for a club that’s fighting relegation, and stick to saying he wants to play regular football in the Premier League – it might be a cliché and a lie, but at least your own fans won’t think you think their club’s rubbish and you want to leave. And there are signs he wants to learn from his mistakes, even though a public apology issued last week did read rather like the queen’s New Year speech. “I hope you will understand that I now promise to concentrate fully on football and only football,” he told a shocked media. “It means that I in the upcoming time won’t be involved in extra-curricular activities – like too many parties or interviews about my persona.” Ouch! What will they write about in 2012?
See related story: Rocky romance a walk in the park for cocky Bendtner
Photo credits: Caroline Wozniacki (www.onetennis.com); Christian Eriksen (Jens Dresling); Jeannette Ottesen (Das Büro); Anders Hansen (AG)